Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reading Project: Looking at Kids in a New Way


Do you know what this is?
Don't worry if you didn't because I didn't either. It doesn't look like much. If you were walking along and you kicked it on a sidewalk, you'd probably let it roll into the gutter and then you'd keep on walking. It would take a trained eye to know what this is and what it could be.  You've probably figured out that this is no ordinary pebble and that it is probably something special by the way I am talking about it. It is, in fact, a raw, uncut diamond weighing in at over 6 carats.

I am a participant in this really great reading project where we are trying to find new ways to meet the needs of kids.  Teachers from several district get together to try things and get feedback from the other teachers.  At one of our sessions, we were having an informal discussion about how most of our study subjects have all had this miraculous spurt in their reading, not just in the ways that we were focused on, but in a myriad of unexpected ways too. It is almost as if the act of being watched led to sudden learning. Someone attributed it to the fact that we were looking at kids in ways we never had before. I thought that was probably true and quite profound.

This idea of looking at kids in a new way has manifested itself in many ways. When the teacher group gets together, the phrase that keeps coming up is: "I never realized..."  Teachers have also reported the new bond they feel with their study subjects. For example, one teacher talked about the "knowing look" the child gives her during class because the student knows she is the study subject.

For me, it is definitely a new focus or a shift in focus. I knew my subject in the study had strengths and weaknesses in her reading skills, but would I have given her all of this attention and these additional opportunities (e.g. mentoring other kids, a little extra instruction, etc.) had she not been my study subject? I doubt it. The project gently forced me to focus in on this particular student, and so I see things in her that I never saw before. The study forced me to slow down and look at her in a new way and to try new things to get her real potential to shine through.

In the same way, it takes a focused, trained eye to recognize a diamond in the rough. And then you have to know what you are doing in order to cleave away the rough edges and to remove the rubble that prevents the diamond from shining through. Maybe you use a certain tool to shape the diamond and maybe you try a different technique to polish the stone. The point is: you have to know what you are looking for, and then you have to know what to do with the raw materials.

The thing is I already knew with certainty that my student was a diamond in the rough. How could I be so certain? That's easy because I know that all students are diamonds in the rough. Some come more shaped and more polished when I get them, but they all have the same basic raw materials. The trouble is I don't have the skills or the knowledge to uncover every single diamond.  But luckily, I am continuously learning new techniques and increasing my tool bag to help chip away at these precious gems. And projects like this one add to that tool bag.

If I am going to experiment with classroom design and trying to have learning look a new way, then my methods of assessment are going to have to look different too.  I can't rely just on tests or assignments if I want to capture the true child.  It's going to have to be a whole lot more.  Teachers are going to have to be a whole lot more too.

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